A planter and his physical health

Yep, you read that title right. This is an article about your physical health.

“But I thought I was involved in a spiritual endeavor — church planting?” You are. But you will be experiencing that endeavor in a physical body. So both matter. Yes, one more than the other, but neither is expendable. In fact, as a planter now 13 years into this plant, I’m convinced there are benefits to giving our physical health more than a passing thought.

Let me preface my thoughts by stating that these two reasons aren’t randomly selected. They are drawn from my own experience. That’s right — the experience of a somewhat short, pretty much bald, and more-or-less average kind of guy who planted a church in Iowa. I’m no health whiz, fitness expert, or nutritional guru. I’m just your regular pastor who has found that trying to stay in somewhat decent health through eating less (and sometimes better) and exercising more has really paid off for me in the past 17 years.

You see, headed into the infamous Y2K, I was over 200 pounds and moving up the scale. And for guy who’s barely a centimeter over 5′ 9″ — well, let’s just say I wasn’t equipped to carry that excess baggage well.

With four kids all under 10, I didn’t like the trajectory I was seeing. After all, I didn’t want to be a sideline dad because I was always tired or out of shape, unable to even play on the floor without getting winded and having to roll over to get up. And if something didn’t change, would I even be around to enjoy their kids? That wasn’t a vision; it was a nightmare.

Add to that what planting and pastoring looked like if that trajectory continued, and I wasn’t liking the picture coming into focus. My weight was affecting me in a myriad of ways and in a variety of arenas, and the upcoming planting environment with its vigorous expectations would be no exception. Granted, we can’t control everything, and all our life is under God’s sovereignty. But with a hearty “Lord willing” in my grasp, I committed to changing what I could about my physical condition and striving for something different as a husband, dad, and church planter.

From my perspective, my “spiritual health” wasn’t in bad shape, so I too often discounted my physical digression in ways that were indicative of avoidance. I’d often cop out on any responsibility to seriously address my physical issues by quoting 1 Timothy 4:8. Lines like “This is what comes with getting older,” “That’s just the nature of a desk job,” or “At least I’m focused on what matters most” were too easily used to excuse an out-of-control appetite.

Granted, Paul affirmed that disciplined godliness has a far greater and longer lasting impact than mere physical training. But he did at least admit that bodily exercise profits some, though not much in comparison to the eternal benefit of spiritual health. It seemed I was even avoiding the “some.”

So one December, around the Christmas tree, I committed, in front of my wife and four kids, to a new lifestyle of exercise and diet. It wasn’t a huge leap into the world of total nutrition or three-hour workouts, but rather a commitment to simply limiting my intake (food) and upping my outgo (sweat). While I won’t go into more detail here, as that isn’t the point of this post, let me simply give you the bottom line: It worked! More than 35 pounds later, this planter simply felt better.

Was I glad to weigh a good bit less externally? You bet! Did it help my heart internally? Sure! And there were a number of other benefits produced that helped me as a husband and father. What I didn’t expect to see were the “occupational” benefits that accompanied this lifestyle change of less food and more sweat, things that were actually very helpful to my role as a church planter. That is the point of this blog, so let me share the most surprising two with you.

I watched my stamina increase. Before this lifestyle change, when I served as a youth pastor and staff member, I would often tire after a single Sunday service. I found it hard to stay focused for appointments afterwards, and often felt like I was wrung out before the day fully ended. Sure, I’d dream about the “plant” on the horizon — the multiple services, various campuses, thriving ministries and other various avenues of follow-up and impact. (C’mon, you’ve dreamed too, right?) Yet I could hardly lug around my weight for my current duties. What was I going to do when we planted? How would I hold up with less help? What would I do when it really did get more demanding — all the while getting older?

As the weight came off and my cardiovascular system increased its capacity, I found myself unexpectedly vibrant well into Sunday night, even as I got older. And when Monday came, there wasn’t the usual letdown. Monday even became my second favorite day of the week! The ability to stay focused, alert, and attentive was substantially improved.

Looking back, I am convinced much of that effect was due to a simple health equation: less weight + more oxygen = longer stamina.

Church planter, do yourself a favor in light of the grind that is ahead: slim down by eating less, and gear up by exercising more. The physical stamina you need for church planting is largely found within that hard but helpful reality.

I sensed my credibility rise. Like it or not, people watch us more than they listen to us. And as I began to exhibit a willingness to deal with my physical health, people with their own appetite issues began to ask questions about their situations. What’s even better is this: They were equally more apt to listen to what I taught from the Bible about their spiritual health!

Perhaps they reasoned that if I could attack my own struggles, maybe I could help them attack theirs. They reasoned this, not because of what they heard, but because of what they saw.

Please don’t read this like I’m some CrossFit junkie or a P90X poster pastor. Not at all! I simply know that when I began to evaluate my health a few years back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, not only for me, but also for those I’m called to lead.

Tuck this away, partner: Church planting requires your energy and your example, and addressing your physical issues (i.e., your own weight/appetite shortcomings) will enable both to grow in ways that will enhance your future ministry beyond what you know in the present.

Published May 8, 2018